Time and Money

State puchasing program helps governments save

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry COSTARS Marketing Manager Bruce Beardsley speaks to the Warren County Intergovernmental Council on Wednesday.

When governments have to buy things, they have to go through bidding, advertising, and other hoops.

The presentation at Wednesday’s meeting of the Warren County Intergovernmental Council (COG) described a way to let someone else jump through the hoops.

COSTARS Marketing Manager Bruce Beardsley explained some of the benefits of his program and why it is useful.

“The state created you and the state can tell you what you can and cannot do,” he said. “You are subject to the Pennsylvania Procurement Law.”

For purchases of at least $10,900, governments in Pennsylvania must receive at least three written or telephone quotes. When the amount is over $20,100, a formal bid process kicks in.

“Unless you use COSTARS,” Beardsley said. “We’ve already gone out to bid for you. COSTARS is the state’s cooperative purchasing program.”

Many of the municipalities in Warren County are already COSTARS members, as are most of the municipalities in the state — 98 percent of townships, 86 percent of boroughs, and all cities, counties, and school districts, he said.

“COSTARS allows your entity to buy stuff the way a normal human being buys stuff,” he said. “A human being doesn’t go to four or five car dealers, have them write a number on a piece of paper, seal them in an envelope,” then go home, open them all, and go back to the one with the lowest number.

Municipal leaders may choose the lowest price, or, they can opt for some combination of factors including price, location, and having had past dealings with the contractor.

The program covers a majority of the products governments buy, according to Beardsley — IT hardware, office supplies, janitorial supplies, food, maintenance contracts, printing services, and many others.

There are fuel cards that allow governments to be billed at the end of the month for fuel and the taxes will have been taken out automatically, he said.

Road salt is one of the most popular items purchased through COSTARS, he said.

Beardsley said $1.22 billion was spent through the program last year.

He said municipalities saved $70 million by not having to go out to bid and advertise and $212 million by getting low prices. He said Warren County governments spent about $1.5 million and saved about $300,000.

Unlike the bid process, municipalities can, and are expected to, negotiate better prices with COSTARS suppliers. “Your job is to get the best price for your taxpayers,” Beardsley said. “You may think (bidders) give you their best price. Nonsense.”

He went through the program’s website and encouraged the supervisors and council members in attendance to sign up and talk to suppliers about signing up. There are about 1,600 participating suppliers state-wide.

The website is www.costars.state.pa.us.